It was raining in Cornwall. We were having dinner by the beach in St Agnes. Looking out to sea, we watched volunteers from the Royal National Lifeboat Institution launch their boat at Trevaunance Cove, jumping in as it hit the water and setting off across the choppy waves.
It rained for most of the following day but it cleared in the afternoon, just when we needed it to. We headed back to the cove with our friends Sam and Ben Quinn, their Canteen Cornwall crew, their grills and their long table. We planned to cook on the beach, raising funds for the RNLI.
Our spot was past a little stream, near some caves, with a table set for 60 guests. It was still chilly as they started to arrive, crossing the beach like baby turtles, skipping over the stream but still getting their shoes wet.
By now, the rain was a distant memory and the evening sun bounced off the Cornish water. Our fires crackled, smoke and sea air mingled with our herby, garlicky sauce. There were the sounds of the wind and waves, guests chatting, drinking and eating, breaking bread and dipping it in the sauce, picking meat off the bones of fish. That evening, we must have had the best table in Cornwall.
The lifeboat crew we had seen the previous night were there as well. It had been a false alarm, apparently: a reported fire turned out to be an illusion caused by a helicopter just beyond the horizon.
Ben and Sam’s theory is that magic happens when good people and good food come together. We can testify that it works — and that a good seaside location doesn’t hurt either.
So, make sure there are good people around you and that you source really good fish still on the bone. Give your guests bread to mop up the sauce and bowls for their fingers, something good to drink and the nicest setting you can manage. Magic is sure to happen.
Sea bass in a herby green sauce
Dinner for four
- Use a strong pair of scissors to remove the fins from the fish. Place on a chopping board and, using a really sharp knife, cut through the bone to remove the head. Then cut the fish into four or five pieces and set on some kitchen paper to absorb any moisture. Repeat with the second fish.
- Mix the flour with the semolina, salt and ras el hanout and completely coat the fish pieces. Heat the oil in a frying pan and sear the fish pieces all over, until they are very crisp. (Do this in a couple of batches to avoid overcrowding the oil and bringing the temperature down.) Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with more kitchen paper and set aside until the sauce is ready.
- In a large skillet, heat two tablespoons of the oil you used for the fish and sauté the celery, onion and chilli slices for two minutes on a high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, add a teaspoon of salt and the crushed garlic and continue cooking for 10-12 minutes or until the vegetables soften and start sticking to the base of the pan. Add a litre of water and bring to a slow boil. Cook for 15 minutes on a low simmer, then add all the chopped herbs — it should be a really large quantity of herbs and don’t be afraid to use all of them. Let the herbs wilt a little in the liquid and pop in the pieces of seared fish. Spoon some sauce all over the pieces, cover, reduce the heat to low and cook for 20 minutes. Remove the lid and serve hot.
Honey & Co will be making “Breakfast in bed with Simon Schama” at the FT Weekend Festival on September 7; ftweekendfestival.com
Email Sarit and Itamar at [email protected]